Farina offers a hint of hope

SIMONE FARINA is an unlikely football hero.

He was once a member of Roma’s youth team but has spent his whole senior career with small clubs and now plays for Gubbio, a town a few miles north of Assisi, better known for the story of St Francis and the wolf than its football team.

Simone’s one slightly sad claim to fame was being sold for a falsely-inflated transfer fee at the age of 20 in a desperate attempt by Roma to balance their books. Until now that is, because nine years later he has emerged as the good guy in a betting scandal which has exposed a chain of corruption scandals linking Singapore and Switzerland by way of eastern Europe and a gang calling themselves the Zingari (gypsies).

The case has nothing at all to do with gypsies, but in one sense that’s what it’s about. The players involved wandered from club to club season after season making contacts and building the links that would enable them to fix results.

Almost all the accused are lower-league players from impoverished clubs like Grosseto, Ternana and Albinoleffe. But since the scandal began to break last summer, with the arrest of former Italy international Beppe Signori, there have been rumours that bigger players were involved.

Roberto De Martino, the prosecutor from Cremona who is directing the investigation (codename “Last Bet”) has said on several occasions he has the “sensation” there were deals between top-flight clubs.

It could be true – there are definitely further arrests to come – but so far there are 18 suspect games, of which only three involve Serie A clubs. However a further 22 Serie A matches are under investigation.

As for the players and ex-players involved only Signori is a real household name. Cristiano Doni of Atalanta, arrested in a dawn raid just before Christmas, has also played for Sampdoria and Bologna and Italy in the 2002 World Cup. Luigi Sartor, another under arrest, spent several years at Inter, Parma and Roma and at one point was a transfer target for Rangers and West Ham.

On the face of it, not the scandal of the century or even the decade. The worry is that this is the tip of the iceberg.

Giancarlo Abete, president of the Italian football federation, has a lot on his plate but he believes “illicit betting and the efforts of international organised crime to influence matches and results” are the most serious issue facing the sport and a priority for the coming year. Both Fifa and the International Olympic Committee have voiced similar fears, while UEFA president Michel Platini says it’s the main task for his term of office to combat.

UEFA’s Betting Fraud Detection System, set up two years ago to monitor betting patterns and suspicious results, seems to have worked well but without uncovering anything untoward in the major European countries. Other specialised organisations such as Betradar provide security services for the bookmakers and are now acting as consultants to football authorities such as Italy’s Lega Pro.

At national level there are bodies such as the French Autorité de Régulation des Jeux en Ligne (Arjel) which was called in the other day to look at Lyon’s 7-1 win against Croatia Zagreb in the Champions League.

That was such a prominent game, and such a bizarre result, that any corruption was unlikely — and Arjel found nothing untoward. Typically the targets for betting syndicates are minor games – both because they are minor and thus harder to track and because the players involved are on low wages sometimes paid months in arrears.

The money on offer can be huge. Simone Farina was approached by his former Roma youth team mate Alessandro Zamperini with an offer of €200,000 to lose Gubbio’s cup tie against Cesena. Farina told him he’d think about it and went immediately to the police.

“He’s not a hero, just a normal honest person,” said Gubbio president Marco Fioriti. But in the context of Italian football, he has set an example.

Italy manager Cesare Prandelli has invited him to join the national squad for training this month “not for technical reasons but because of what he represents”. A sign of changing times maybe.

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